CHILO Gorge Lodge is on the north-eastern tip of Gonarezhou National Park, the Save River forming a natural boundary between the lodge and the park.
The lodge’s history is intriguing and inspiring, being the birthplace of Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (Campfire).
According to Clive Stockil, founder of Chilo and Campfire, he was asked to be an honorary officer of Gonarezhou at the time of independence in 1980.
“The park and the local community were at war with one another and poaching was a grave problem. In 1982, I was part of a meeting with 70 Shangaan elders. I
told them I couldn’t tell the government what to do, that I was only a messenger, but that if we came up with a logical strategy, they might go for it,” he
He said it took between five and six years to get everyone to understand that the local community couldn’t be ignored – they needed to be able to benefit from
“They grew their corn, spent months tending it, and then one night, a herd of ‘park elephants’ would cross the river, come into their land and destroy it all,
leaving them hungry. They retaliated and hunted the elephants. When the government sent in a crack anti-poaching unit, tensions just got worse,” he said,
adding that the government was sceptical about his Campfire strategy.
There was no school in Mahenye then — they just scraped the bark off a tree and used it as a blackboard but that year, they built their first school with money
from the project and that marked its turning point.
Over the years, guns have been replaced by cameras, and local people and visitors alike have learned to appreciate the animals as they should be — unmolested
in their natural habitat. In recognition of his unswerving commitment, Clive was awarded the Prince William Award for Conservation in 2013.
“If you are a conservationist, your problem is all about space, so deal with human pressures first. Campfire has turned conflict into cooperation and everyone
has benefited. The community is happy, the parks are happy and the animals are happy. Everyone wins,” he said.
We had just got back from Mana, and drove from Harare to Chilo. It’s about a seven-hour drive, although its only 525km. The first 130km out of Harare is
The Harare-Beitbridge Road is busy, the driving is fast and aggressive, and the verge of the tar has a significant drop off to the dirt.
After passing the Chiredzi and Chipinda Pools turn off, you cross Jack Quentin Bridge, which spans the Save River.
It’s quite impressive, although the river levels are very low for this time of year.
Directly after the bridge, is the sign to Chilo and the road becomes dirt.
Its 43km of gravel road that although does not require 4×4, definitely requires high clearance and a good set of tyres. Corrugations and rock make this slow going, an hour and a half to drive 43km.
There is an airstrip right next to the lodge — if you can afford a charter flight, it would be the best access option.
There is so much to do at Chilo, three nights almost didn’t seem enough.
A variety of walks and game drives either into the park or into the sanctuary, cultural tours, sundowners on the beach, a visit to Chivilia Falls, a visit to the Save-Runde confluence (which happens to be the lowest point in Zimbabwe) and our personal favourite, the visit to the Palm Wine “factory” in Mahenye village.
The wine production was fascinating. The wine master works in a flood-plain where there is an abundance of naturally occurring Ilala palms. He cuts the base of
the palm, and palm wine drips out. It’s not actually alcoholic when it leaves the palm, but the cups used to collect the liquid are never washed, thus
maintaining a particular bacterial balance, in effect, instantly fermenting the juice. It does come with a warning. It’s best consumed in very moderate
quantities, within a few hours of collection. The longer it remains in the bottle, the more lethal it becomes and after 24 hours is guaranteed to leave no one
standing. The wine is delicious and tastes exactly how you would imagine Ilala wine should.
The conference room at Chilo is new and air-conditioned. It is the perfect venue for any small corporate conference while the staff was very amenable.
We found the two guides at Chilo — Lionel and Tom — very knowledgeable, with excellent people skills. The food was also good, meals varied and delicious.